Against all odds, the San Antonio Spurs stole a win from the Denver Nuggets in the first game. Now it’s time to build some momentum with Game 2.
For as gritty and determined as the San Antonio Spurs proved themselves to be in the first game of the 2019 NBA Playoffs in the Mile-High City, head coach Gregg Popovich probably wasn’t all too satisfied with his team’s performance. It’s not every day that the Denver Nuggets, a team with high-octane offense spewing from its deep rotation, is going to shoot 42 percent from the field and 21.4 percent from three-point range.
We must give credit where credit it due, and the Spurs’ guards really stepped up when they were needed most. Combo guard Derrick White stole the show in game one by putting the clamps on rising talent Jamal Murray, forcing him into 8-of-23 shooting in the contest. That kind of defensive intensity and focus needs to carry forward if the Spurs want to steal this series.
Denver coach Mike Malone is no slouch, there’s not a doubt in my mind that he’s game planning and strategizing to expose the Spurs’ weaknesses and organize his players into a more cohesive offensive strategy. Attention to detail, or lack thereof, was certainly an issue for the Nuggets in the first game; they missed eight free throws and committed 18 fouls in the contest.
San Antonio’s bench really picked up the slack for their two star players in DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge. The marquee players combined for 33 points on a horrendous 12-of-36 shooting on the night. If not for the heroics displayed by Rudy Gay in the first half and the guard duo of Bryn Forbes and White throughout the night, San Antonio very easily could’ve walked out of the Pepsi Center down 0-1 in the series.
The Spurs need to build momentum in the second game of the seven-game series, but it’ll take a cohesive effort in a few different areas.
Next: Stars need to show up and show out
Stars need to show up and show out
Depth isn’t always going to bail you out, especially when you’re a No. 7 seed dueling against the team with the second-best record in a competitive Western Conference. It’s astonishing to think that DeRozan and Aldridge could combine to make just a third of their shot attempts in a win.
Spurs fans are weary of DeRozan right now because of the long history he had in Toronto of failing to show up in the playoffs. Along with his close buddy Kyle Lowry, who finished the Raptors’ first playoff game with zero points, DeRozan was on the receiving end of some devastating beat downs in the playoffs back East.
DeRozan is faced with a new opportunity to prove to the league just how incredible of a player he is. Even in a poor shooting night, DeRozan showed off a new side of himself that’s been unleashed by working with the coaching staff in San Antonio. The 29-year-old finished game one with 12 rebounds including three on the offensive glass, six assists and one block. His defensive rotations and active hands on defense were crucial in limiting Denver’s backcourt offensively, so it wasn’t a horrible all-around performance. As a matter of fact, DeRozan was quite impressive as a decision-maker even though his shots weren’t falling.
Game 2 provides a window of opportunity for DeRozan. A poor showing from a shooting perspective can always be overshadowed by a strong follow up performance.
On the flip side, Aldridge is going to have to work for his looks in this series. Malone is well aware of Aldridge’s prowess on the left block and has sent an array of double teams his way both in the regular season and in Game One.
It’d be nice to see Aldridge operate more out of the pick-and-roll or pick-and-pop in this matchup, forcing Nikola Jokic and Paul Millsap into some difficult defensive rotations. Not only does he open up lanes for his teammates, but he also does a great job of finding himself open for short jumpers off of screens.
Surrounding role players aren’t always going to be able to pick up the slack, it’s time for the Spurs to lean more on their stars as necessary.
Next: Don’t give up points at the free throw line
Don’t give up points at the free throw line
Four Spurs finished game one with three or more personal fouls on Saturday evening, leading to 24 attempts at the charity stripe for Denver. They got lucky in a poor shooting night for the Nuggets, but San Antonio cannot give their opponent the opportunity to earn free points. Had the Nuggets converted on their free throws, they probably would’ve come out of the game with a win.
It’s long been noted that Gregg Popovich encourages his players to stay aggressive on defense but focus on limiting foul trouble. By playing pesky on-ball defense and keeping in the airspace of opposing ballhandlers, the Spurs’ guards can limit Denver’s three-point shooters with space.
The nature of center Jakob Poeltl is to hold down the paint at all costs, so his physicality and workhorse mentality on that side of the ball makes him prone to commit fouls. He finished with three fouls in 24 minutes during Game One, a mark that the Spurs should be able to live with. Still, it’s his responsibility to fulfill his role without giving up points at the free throw line.
LaMarcus Aldridge committed a few early fouls that disrupted the flow of his team in a 25-point first quarter. Frustration certainly comes into play when you’re double teamed through the opening of your first playoff game of the year, but Aldridge needs to keep a level head on his shoulders. Without him as the anchor of the team, there’s no telling how this series could end up.
Next: Get your shooters going
Get your shooters going
In the low-scoring Game One of this series, San Antonio shot an excellent percentage from three three-point range by making 7-of-15 takes. Quizzically, the Spurs’ most reliable shooters off the bench never managed to get it going in the contest.
Three-point specialists Marco Belinelli and Davis Bertans combined to make two three-pointers on six takes while Patty Mills never shot a three. If not for a strong performance from Bryn Forbes, this team would’ve had a terrible shooting night.
Popovich may want to consider running a few more plays for Bertans, Mills and Belinelli to curl off of screens and hit threes. A 101-point outing may have worked in the first game, but it’s hard to believe that the Nuggets can be trounced by a team barely putting up 100 points moving forward. The game slows down in the playoffs and the pressure of the matchup can get the best of some players, but these are individuals who’ve seen what it takes to win a championship.
From a defensive standpoint, the Nuggets expect San Antonio to run their plays for DeRozan and Aldridge to isolate and score. To throw them off, the Spurs need to get some of their good old-fashioned ball movement back in the mix to help space out the floor and take a commanding 2-0 series lead.
Doubters have been putting the Spurs down since well before the season even started. After the devastating ACL tear by Dejounte Murray, the national media decided to count this team out. Now they stand with a 1-0 series lead against on the game’s most impressive units with a chance to grab a 2-0 lead before returning to the AT&T Center.
The Nuggets are going to bring their A-Game, but will the Spurs be able to counter it? We’ll see at 8:00 p.m. CST on NBATV and Fox Sports Southwest – San Antonio.